Oh, the Joy.

Joy and I have always had a fraught history, but since I learned to love her without reserve, I've had marvelous luck finding her in antique stores. I found a vintage unopened flacon in a presentation case at the Point Pleasant Antique Center, which Nan and I sent as a gift for Carol of WAFT; I next found a cased black-and-red "snuff" bottle of the extrait at the Burlington City Antique Emporium and fell even more under Joy's spell. In what other forms will she come to me, and in what other colorful places will I happen upon her?...

Here's a story for you:

On Sunday, my man and I rise early, gear up, and hit the road for Englishtown. This vast glorified garage sale may not exactly be Les Puces, but it's the biggest and best bazaar in two counties.

Many years ago, Englishtown had a certain shabby charm, its outdoor tables festooned with exotic tchotchkes, hippie finery, and the odd antique. Today it's more like a 40-acre dollar store awash in cheap 'made-in-China' merchandise...and bootleg perfume. I count no fewer than seven vendors hawking Chanels, Gaultiers, Givenchys and Diors with cries of "Three for ten!" No need to ponder that pricing scale to guess that these fragrances -- stacks and stacks of them! -- are all fakes. Of course no one's fooled: who would ever fence the real deal at Englishtown?

While Scott cleans up in the used comic book aisle, I conserve both my money and my energy for our next stop: Englishtown Antiques and Used Furniture. A new, untested antique shop always fills me with a Stone Age hunter-gatherer's sense of imperative. What will I see? What's there to find? I MUST get my hands on it! I'm always prepared to have my enthusiasm seasoned with healthy doses of challenge, reality, and letdown... but when I walk through the doors of "the Largest 2nd Hand Shop in New Jersey", I feel like Indiana Jones in a Peruvian temple full of booby traps.

Ideally, an antique store should resemble a well-ordered Cabinet of Wonders-- but at this shop, floor-to-ceiling chaos rules the house. Never, ever have I seen a retail space filled with so much stuff, in so many varieties, with so little rhyme or reason to its classification or storage. Jam-packed to the tallest rafters, this dimly-lit rabbit warren lacks clear aisles, safety standards, and an organizing principle.

But they DO have a full bottle of vintage Patou Eau de Joy.

I find it while climbing/tripping/falling over an untied bundle of old LIFE magazines en route to what I hope will be a flat surface. I've just discovered a tray of mini-perfumes imprisoned in a display case so thoroughly entrenched in trash that only a rock climber could hope to scale it. While the saleslady curses and struggles to free the tray, a golden glint catches my eye from behind a stack of novelty ceramic ashtrays. At first I wonder if I hit my head stumbling around this place and just don't remember it. This must be a hallucination!

But no. I heft the crystal flacon in my hand, open it slowly and carefully... and all of heaven's seraphim are released.

At that moment, the saleslady returns with the tray, which turns out to be laden with dust-coated Prince Matchabellis and sundry Elizabeth Taylor minis. "If you like perfume," she pants, "ask the boss about the HUGE SHIPMENT we just got in!" She waves at something behind me; I turn to see a stack of cardboard boxes piled -- I'm not lying -- seven feet high.

My knees go all rubbery. I can hardly contain my excitement. Visions of a vintage hoard even greater than Carol's estate-sale 'fumescore explode in my imagination like fireworks.

I wait impatiently for the owner to abseil her way down from the summit of a tall utility ladder. Batting cobwebs out of her hair, she squints at me with a look that tells me I better not have made her get down for nothing. Pretending a nonchalance I certainly do not feel, I inquire about the Great Tower of Fragrance-- when it's to be received, priced, displayed for sale. Should I leave my name, perhaps? Or would it be easier to have me call at the end of the week?

"Don't bother. I can tell you right now what's in every one of those boxes," the owner sighs.

Reaching below the counter, she pulls out a conspicuously non-deluxe white cardboard box, pries open its flaps, and extracts a simply humongous bottle of Amarige-- the exact same model they'd been peddling (Three for ten!) back at the flea market.

"Brand new-- got about hundred of them," she tells me, sounding strangely proud of this accomplishment. Then she casts a pitying glance at my poor, benighted, not-brand-new Eau de Joy and shrugs.

"Four bucks," she says.

Scent Elements: Bulgarian rose otto, rose de Mai, jasmine, ylang-ylang, calyx, peach, orchid, tuberose, lily-of-the-valley, iris, civet, sandalwood, musk, aldehydes